Fantasy baseball 2013 draft preview: Third-year pitchers
We are going to let you in on a little secret: 200-inning starting pitchers are rapidly becoming a rare breed. Finding the new ones is paramount in fantasy baseball, because they score bonus value relative to draft position.
A starting pitcher's arm is first ready to handle the grind of a full baseball season in its third year, and this year's class looks better than ever. We'll likely welcome the likes of aces Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson to the 200-inning club, and the intrigue only begins with those two.
Our candidates are looking to join a select group, as that total has been declining for the last three years. Only 31 pitchers reached 200 innings in baseball a year ago -- the lowest total since the labor-strife years of 1994 (one pitcher in a season cut to 115 games) and '95 (19 pitchers in a season cut to 144 games). Bullpen specialists and inning limits are making it tough for pitchers to reach the innings plateau of a fantasy ace.
We want to draft pitchers -- notoriously the riskiest position in fantasy -- who won't break down, can make 30 starts, reach 200 innings and not fade in fantasy crunch time during the final weeks of the season. That is about six innings per start for a full-time April-through-September starter. It's not easy, but it becomes possible when a pitcher has made around 40-70 career starts, which tends to be in the third MLB season.
The 27-year-olds might be the prime age for hitters, but a pitcher's third year is the most likely to be his coming out season, in which he develops into a fantasy ace. Here are the 10 third-year starting pitchers we think will post career years and most dramatically outperform their draft positions:
1. Stephen Strasburg (24 years old), Washington Nationals
• 45 career starts
• Career bests: 15 wins, 3.16 ERA, 197 strikeouts, 1.15 WHIP in 159 1/3 innings
• Upside: 24/2.20/300/1.000 in 215 innings
This season the monster is going to be let out of his cage. While the Nationals have one of the best bullpens in baseball, no reliever they consider in the seventh or eighth inning will be as intriguing as Strasburg himself. If they truly stick to their word to not hold him back, a healthy Strasburg should end up at 200 innings after 33-35 starts. He has pitched 251 1/3 innings total as a major-leaguer, but he's good enough to reach that level in one season -- although the Nats would never allow that. In those innings, he has won 21 games and struck out 313 batters. Strasburg is going to rate a premium pick -- he's the No. 1 starter in SI.com's Top 300 -- but wherever he gets picked, he is going to provide great value. After that bitter shutdown he endured last August, watching his Nats fall in the postseason, you just know he's motivated to take it out on his opponents this time around.
2. Jeremy Hellickson (25), Tampa Bay Rays
• 64 career starts
• Career bests: 13/2.95/124/1.15 in 189 innings
• Upside: 18/2.75/200/1.110 in 215 innings
Hellickson regressed last year as a sophomore, averaging around just 5 2/3 innings per start. If he reverts to his rookie form of 2011, he can reach 215 innings in 33 starts. In that case, his 6.3 K/9 from a year ago would amount to 150 strikeouts to go with tidy ERA and WHIP numbers. We have a hunch he is even better than that. This is a top-25 fantasy ace who will be overshadowed on his own team by David Price and Matt Moore (who is only in Year 2) and perhaps fall out of the top 40 on draft day.
3. Mike Minor (25), Atlanta Braves
• 53 career starts
• Career bests: 11/4.12/145/1.15 in 179 1/3 innings
• Upside: 15/3.40/175/1.115 in 205 innings
Everyone is looking at Kris Medlen in fantasy drafts this March, but Minor should be drawing the attention after his 179 1/3 innings in 30 starts. Medlen is 27 years old, but he has just 30 career starts under his belt -- an in-season high of just 14 (2010) -- and a high innings total of just 138 a year ago. Minor will arrive as the 200-inning workhorse this season. He will be on the board many rounds later than Medlen and will outperform his teammate this season.
4. Brett Anderson (25), Oakland Athletics
• 68 career starts
• Career bests: 11/2.80/150/1.19 in 175 1/3 innings
• Upside: 17/2.65/180/1.10 in 200 innings
Anderson barely fits this category -- after all, he's entering his fifth season, not his third -- but injuries and Tommy John surgery have limited him to just 68 career starts. It would be a stretch for him to go from 35 post-surgery innings a year ago to 200 this season, but he was declared the A's Opening Day starter, and a healthy season would get him to 200 innings in a full 34 starts. Before the injury, he was one of the burgeoning aces of fantasy. Now, he's healthy and primed for a career year, one that won't even require you picking him among the top 40 starting pitchers in drafts.
5. Ross Detwiler (27), Washington Nationals
• 56 career starts
• Career bests: 10/3.40/105/1.22 in 164 1/3 innings
• Upside: 15/3.25/145/1.18 in 195 innings
Detwiler is the first starter on this list who won't reach 200 innings, but he's also the first one who will be a late-round pick. Detwiler slots behind Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Dan Haren in the rotation, so the Nats won't need him to approach 200 innings -- especially not given the quality of that bullpen in the late innings. Detwiler remains a burgeoning talent who will get ample run support and the ensuing wins potential from one of the best teams in baseball. He's a must-have late pick.
6/7. Zach Britton (25), Chris Tillman (24), Brian Matusz (26), Jake Arrieta (26), Baltimore Orioles
• Career starts: 39 (40 appearances) for Britton, 50 for Tillman, 68 for Matusz, 58 for Arrieta
• Career bests: 11/4.61/97/1.45 in 154 innings (Britton), 9/2.93/66/1.05 in 86 innings (Tillman), 10/4.30/143/1.34 in 175 innings (Matusz), 10/4.66/109/1.34 in 119 innings (Arrieta)
The Orioles have an embarrassment of riches of young breakout pitching candidates. Perhaps only two of these once-elite pitching prospects are going to make the team's rotation behind veteran Jason Hammel, second-year import Wei-Yin Chen and 2012 rookie revelation Miguel Gonzalez. The lefties Britton and Matusz came with the most hype, while Tillman can with the lightning heat. Tillman was the big winner for the O's last season, posting nine victories in his 15 starts. Whichever of these arms emerges as a member of the O's rotation will provide great late-round value in all fantasy leagues.
8. Daniel Hudson (26), Arizona Diamondbacks
• 58 career starts
• Career bests: 16/3.49/169/1.20 in 222 innings
• Upside: 9/2.80/80/1.15 in 90 innings
Hudson, perhaps an example of what happens when you increase inning totals too drastically from year to year, is out until the All-Star break after Tommy John surgery. But he is a must-stash in leagues with reserves and DL spots, particularly in long-term keeper leagues where you can keep a player at the round drafted the previous season. Hudson could wind up being a keeper owner's most important pick of the draft for 2014. He figures to be a borderline fantasy ace for the 2013 stretch run when he does return to the D'backs, too.
9. Brandon Beachy (25), Atlanta Braves
• 41 career starts
• Career bests: 7/3.68/169/1.21 in 141 2/3 innings
• Upside: 10/2.80/100/1.15 in 100 innings
If Hudson's mid-July return doesn't excite you, perhaps Beach is your man. He is at least a month ahead of Hudson's rehabilitation process for Tommy John surgery. In fact, if you miss out on the Braves' Minor, Beachy is potentially this year's Medlen. Beachy has posted more than a strikeout (252) per inning (237 2/3) in his career and has the potential to actually post the same type of wicked half-season Medlen delivered last summer. Beachy is even more of a must-grab than Hudson in formats where you can afford to stash a starter for half a season.
10. Wade Davis (27), Kansas City Royals
• 64 career starts
• Career bests: 12/4.07/113/1.35 in 184 innings
• Upside: 14/3.60/125/1.25 in 180 innings
The Tampa Bay Rays didn't slot Davis in the bullpen for the entirety of 2012 because they didn't see Davis as a viable big-league starter. They just had too many starters to choose from in spring training and, once Davis was in relief, he was too good to move. The Rays also did not give him up in a deal to the Royals because they didn't like him. They needed to give up real talent to land Wil Myers and other prospects. Davis is a lot better than anyone gives him credit for and he can be a sturdy starter every fifth day for the Royals. Coming off a full season of relieving, Davis likely caps at 180 innings and 30 starts, but he is going to give added value in those head-to-head formats where you can slot a starting pitcher in a relief spot.
The list of potential career years doesn't end there; here are the other starting pitchers roughly in their third-year with between 40-70 career starts:
|Additional third-year starting pitchers|
Here are the top young starters who just missed the cut above because they are second-year starters and/or have less than 40 career starts. While 2014 will likely be the big year, it isn't outside the realm of possibility that these guys outperform their draft position this March -- save for the pitcher we love to loathe relative to his stock, Medlen:
|2014 third-year starting pitchers|
These starters have passed the 70-career-start plateau, but they're still improving. In fact, if you can get them at a reasonable rate, they might be safer than any of the bets above. Safe is important at this annually risky position:
|Last year's third-year starting pitchers|
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